Lizards as pets UK
Animals are a common trigger of asthma symptoms. You might be allergic to just one animal or more than one. Often it's cats, dogs or horses - but other animals such as rabbits, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils can also make asthma symptoms worse. For some people, birds may also trigger asthma symptoms.
Pet allergies can develop at any stage of life. This means that even if you had a dog when you were younger and did not react to it, you could be allergic to dogs now. Sometimes, even if you have been around an animal for some time without developing allergies, it's possible to become allergic years later.
Why do animals cause asthma symptoms?
The allergens (which cause the allergic reaction in some people) are actually proteins found in the animal's saliva, flakes of skin (dander), faeces and urine - and are harmless for most people.
In people who are sensitive to these proteins, touching or inhaling animal allergens causes the immune system to overreact and release a chemical called histamine, leading to an allergic reaction. Symptoms can include red, itchy and watery eyes and nose; sneezing; coughing; scratchy or sore throat; itchy skin; and most serious of all, difficulty breathing.
For many people with asthma, this release of histamine can make asthma symptoms worse.
How do you know if animals are your trigger?
If you or your child is slightly allergic to animals, your allergy symptoms (itching, redness, sneezing, coughing) may not appear until after several days of contact with the animal.
For people who are highly allergic to animals, this can cause severe breathing problems - coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath - within 15 to 30 minutes of coming into contact with the animal. Sometimes highly allergic people also get a rash on the face, neck and upper chest.
An easy way to tell if you are allergic to an animal is to stay away from it and see if your asthma symptoms get better. Of course, this isn't always possible. As Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline advises: "Moving your pet to a different room, putting it outside, or re-homing it won't get rid of all the allergens straight away - and you may still have symptoms for some time."
The best way to confirm you have an animal allergy is by getting your doctor to refer you for a skin prick test and/or blood test to confirm whether or not you're allergic to animals.
1. If you don't keep pets...
... but you know you'll be coming into contact with an animal that triggers your asthma, take an antihistamine or nasal spray beforehand, or wear a mask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth. If you regularly come into contact with animals and cannot avoid it, you may need to talk to your GP or asthma nurse about a regular nasal spray.
2. If you live with pets
If you decide to carry on living with pets when you have allergic asthma, here are some things you can do to cut your risk of symptoms:
- Try to keep pets out of your bedroom and, where possible, living area.
- Regular grooming and bathing of cats and dogs can help. You can ask your vet for advice on how to do this properly.
- If your pet lives in a cage, it may be a good idea to get someone else to clean it out. Ideally it would be better to keep them in their cage as much as possible and limit where they go in the house.
- You could try using air filters and an efficient vacuum cleaner. This might be helpful for people who have cat allergies, but the evidence on the benefit of these remains unclear.
3. If you're thinking about re-homing your pet
If you're thinking about re-homing your pet because of your allergies, it's important to consider getting an allergy test first, because you may be reacting to something else such as smoke, dust or pollen.
If you're confident that you (or anyone else who shares your home) doesn't have pet allergies, it's okay to have a pet if you have asthma. If you or someone you live with starts having asthma symptoms - and you suspect that this is being caused by your pet or a certain animal - have an asthma review with your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible. Your inhalers could be adjusted or you may need to have another medicine added on to make sure your asthma is as well controlled as possible.